Tips to Sidestep Common Survey Design Pitfalls
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Tips to Sidestep Common Survey Design Pitfalls

Today’s tips on survey design include:

  1. Be clear and transparent
  2. Ask what you need to know
  3. Avoid double-barrelled questions


TIP 1: Be clear and transparent  

Consider how data may be misused (intentionally or unintentionally) and the potential harm this may cause your respondents. You are collecting individuals’ data and they have the right to know what is being collected, by whom, and for what purpose. You should also outline whether individuals’ data will be made anonymous or kept confidential and how.

For example: I once received an exit survey that assured program participants their responses would be anonymous. However, the survey required participants to answer highly identifying questions and the data was going to be shared directly with program managers. It would be easy for a managers to link negative or positive responses to specific individuals. The survey administrator had a strong belief in the managers’ professionalism and good intentions, but managers are people too! Safeguarding the data to address potential harm was warranted.


TIP 2: Ask what you need to know 

Ask only what you need to know in order to understand an issue or take action. It is tempting to add questions because they are “nice to know.” The issue here is that these “nice to know” questions will lengthen your survey and the time your respondents will need to commit to completing your survey.


TIP 3: Avoid double-barrelled questions 

When crafting your survey question, step back and make sure you are only asking ONE question at a time. It’s easy to inadvertently bundle more than one question together. The issue here is you will not be able to interpret the responses you collect.

For example, consider this common restaurant interaction:

Server:  Soup or salad?  

Patron: Yes.  

 There are different ways to interpret the response to this question: Yes to soup, Yes to salad, Yes to both. In the end, you’ll have to throw the data out.